First, McDonald’s was sued because its coffee was just too darned hot; now they’re being sued because their Happy Meal toys are just too darned good at marketing food to kids.

The Washington, DC, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has served McDonald’s a letter of intent to sue in California court “if the fast-food chain continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals.” Why? They say the toys lure kids into eating unhealthy foods:

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”

This is not the first attempt to take the “Happy” out of the Happy Meal. Santa Clara County, Calif., officials banned the brightly-colored toys included in kids’ meals. But now the Golden State battle with the Golden Arches is moving from county government to the courtroom.

How exactly is it that “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority”? Nothing about the toys prevents a parent from just saying “no,” and it’s not as if children have secret sources of income and vehicles to get them through the drive-through. The ideology behind all this is clearly condescending to both parents and business. The message is, “Parents, you are far too stupid to manage your children’s diets. And businesses, you are far too greedy to be allowed to effectively market your products.”

Marketing campaigns are about creatively engaging an audience to sell a product. It’s as basic as that. “Shrek” toys appear in Happy Meals because it’s mutually beneficial for Dreamworks and McDonald’s to cross-promote their products. And if parents don’t like it, they can take their business elsewhere. As The Heritage Foundation notes, “Central to the American idea is the notion that individual dignity necessarily includes the freedom to work hard, be creative and get ahead in life without interference by the state.”

Vincent Coglianese is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: